Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Missed chances and lost momentum

Despite losing by only three points, the Wisconsin football team was dominated statistically on both sides of the ball by the Penn State Nittany Lions Saturday.

Penn State passed the ball for 287 yards while piling up another 149 on the ground. However, just three minutes into the fourth quarter, Wisconsin found itself on the Penn State 47, trailing by only five points. That Badger drive ended with two dropped passes. With those passes went the momentum the Badgers had struggled so hard all game to obtain.

From the start, the day looked like an ill-fated one for Wisconsin. Lee Evans was unable to play after much speculation that he would make his long-awaited return. No doubt the return of the much-heralded wideout may have lifted the Badger offense’s spirits, if not their game. Without Evans, the group was slow out of the gate, gaining only 107 yards in the first half and giving up over five minutes to Penn State in possession time.

However, the real problem for the Badgers, and the general theme for the day, was the way in which they made seemingly careless errors at crucial moments. As Penn State opened the game, the Badger defense played soundly, forcing Zack Mills to overthrow his receiver on a third-down play, forcing a fourth down. Or at least it should have. The play was wiped away because the Wisconsin defense lined up off-sides.

The penalty breathed new life into the Penn State offense. Following the play, Mills was able to complete his next pass for a first down at the PSU 42-yard line, and what would have been a punting situation turned into an eleven-play, 65-yard scoring drive.

Rather than gaining the momentum that comes with stopping an opponent’s first series, the Badgers allowed Penn State to get into a rhythm. With that drive began what could only be described as a total domination in the trenches during the first half for Penn State.

Just how difficult did it prove to regain any defensive momentum? The Badger defense was unable to force Penn State to punt until there was less than a minute remaining in the third quarter — certainly not a winning football formula.

But Wisconsin is a team that has been able to win ugly. The Badgers were not pretty against Fresno State, and coaches adamantly expressed that UW did not deserve the victory over Northern Illinois. Quite simply, the Badgers were not out of the game even with a largely ineffective offense and defense.

Even under duress, the UW defense has shown an amazing ability to bend without breaking. All season they have given up yards, but many times they have only allowed a field goal or caused a turnover at the most opportune moment.

Both of these trends were again evident Saturday. The most obvious example came when B.J. Tucker intercepted a pass intended for tight end Casey Williams. Tucker raced 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Badgers their only lead of the game.

The lead was short-lived. The Badgers surrendered a quick touchdown to Penn State on a 25-yard Larry Johnson run on which three Wisconsin defenders missed tackles. The Lions had, in essence, rolled with the Wisconsin punch and came out unphased while stealing the momentum back again.

Still, Wisconsin did not go away in the second half, despite trailing 28-14 in the third period. Coaches went back to the running game, the style of play that has won the Badgers Rose Bowls in the past. UW began to control the line of scrimmage, something it had not done all day. In doing so, the Badgers scored 11 unanswered points and forced the Lions into their first two punts of the game, the second of which gave Wisconsin great field position and a chance to take the lead.

The game was within reach. Momentum and control of the game that UW had not really had from the opening kickoff were now in hand.

Unfortunately, mental errors once again reared their ugly head for the Badgers.

Wisconsin’s talented young receivers suddenly did not shine as brightly as they had for the first five games of the season. Two consecutive Brooks Bollinger passes fell to the turf after being in the hands of Darrin Charles and Jonathon Orr on consecutive plays.

The Wisconsin defense was then unable to turn away the Penn State attack. The Lions pushed the lead back to eight and then to 11, a lead that proved insurmountable despite a late push from the Badgers.

UW had every chance a team that was out-gained by 127 yards could ask for. In the end, it was not the Penn State offense or defense that did in the Badgers. The real culprits in the Badger loss were unforced errors and the lost momentum that accompanied those errors.

Strangely enough, the game itself mirrors the Badger season as a whole. Wisconsin had put itself in a great situation; the Badgers had pushed out to a 5-0 start and had a bye week to study up for Penn State. It looked like all systems were go heading into Saturday’s matchup. The Badgers seemed poised, they felt confident, but then, inexplicably, all the momentum of a 5-0 start disappeared in the 34-31 loss.

Wisconsin was unable to recover from lost momentum during the game Saturday. Only the rest of the Big Ten season will tell if the Badgers will be able to regain that momentum.

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